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Club Selection From Just Off the Green
Deciding What Type of Shot to Hit and Selecting the Right Stick

Decisions, Decision, Decisions

Learn what type of shot to hit and how to choose your club for greenside shots.  Greenside Club Selection

So many options, so little time. When you find yourself 150 yards out from the pin and in the middle of the fairway, you don't really have a lot of big decisions to make. You know it's 150 yards, you have a clear shot and if you've picked a good landing target on the green and don't have wind to content with your decision is pretty much made. You need your 150 yard club; whatever that may be. When you land just off the green however say 10-20 yards out, the decisions are bountiful. Should you putt, chip or even pitch the ball? Once you make that basic decision then of course it gets a bit more complicated. Which of your 14 clubs do you use? As you can see there are several decisions to be made and making the wrong one can certainly cost you a stroke or two.

Minimum Air; Maximum Ground

First of all I'd like to clarify the difference between a chip and a pitch as this is often a confusing part of the game, especially for beginner players. I use the reference of slow pitch softball when it comes to pitch. Just like the pitcher throws the ball on a nice soft arc with a good amount of loft, that's simply what you are trying to do with a pitch shot. A pitch shot is typically higher, but also longer than a chip shot. Pitches are generally from 30-80 yards whereas chips are from within that distance (30 yards and in to the green). For pitches because you want loft, you will always choose a wedge. Chip shots are not only shorter, they are also lower. They begin with just a small amount of loft, but then release once they hit the green with a good amount of roll. With chip shots, you make a smaller, more pendulum like swing that is quite a bit different from a longer, higher pitching swing that has more angles. Chipping is the one shot in golf where you can successfully use all the clubs in your bag. It just depends how much loft you need versus roll. A great rule of thumb when your ball lands near the green is use "minimum air and maximum ground." This way you keep the ball under the wind, don't have to mess with a lot of bounce (or a bad one) and can use the green to your advantage. Hitting the ball higher also takes more swing which gives you more opportunity for mistakes. You can apply this rule to your game using nice progression. Putt it when you can, then chip it if you need to loft it and finally, only throw it up into the air with a pitch if that's your only option.

Which Shot? Which Club?

How then do you go about deciding what shot to hit and what club to choose? The first step is to look at what's between your ball and the green. Do you have a bunker or rough to carry over or is it all fairway? Obviously if you have something that you have to loft over, you know your answer is a pitch shot with a lofted wedge. If nothing stands between you and the green except fairway/fringe, then you have more options. If this is the case the first thing you need to do is decide on your landing spot. Ask yourself after you've had a chance to read the shot where the best place is for the ball to come down. Does it need to land on the green and if so where? If the fairway/fringe seems smooth then you have to decide if the best choice is to keep it on the ground and roll it the whole way with the putter or if a bit of loft and a bounce will serve you better. The decision to putt or chip can be made by looking at these 4 factors:

  • The thickness of the grass - If the grass is too long then it's going to put too much drag on the ball and distance is going to be really tough to judge. If it's tightly mown grass then putting may be an option.
  • The evenness of the terrain - If there are divots or bumps in your line then you definitely don't want to putt. When there are imperfections between your ball and the putting surface you are much better off lofting the ball over them.
  • The amount of fairway or fringe - If there is a lot of fairway or fringe to cover (more than 6 feet or so) then judging the amount of force to apply to the putt will be tough. This doesn't make putting the ball impossible, it just makes getting the ball close a bigger challenge.
  • The lie - If your ball is sitting up nice, getting your putter on it squarely shouldn't be a problem. If however your ball is sitting down in a depression or there is fringe or fairway behind your ball, then your club might get caught making it impossible to strike the ball in the sweet spot.

Once you evaluate those 4 factors the decision to putt or chip should be an easy one to make. So we now know when we should pitch the ball and when we can putt the ball. How do we know what club to use if we decide to chip it? Besides the putter you are allowed to carry 13 clubs in your bag and believe it or not, they are all good chipping clubs. You make the decision based on how much loft you need and how much roll you need. Remember we want minimum air so you only need enough loft to get it to the putting surface. If you need very little loft, a driver, fairway wood or hybrid club may work really well. For more loft and less roll a wedge may be a better choice. The good news is you have a lot of decisions to make when your ball lands short of the green, but you have a lot of options!

The Situation:

You are trying to figure out what club to use when your ball lands short of the green.

The Solution:

Decide first if you absolutely must hit a pitch shot. The only reason you should is if you have to go over something to get to the green. If you choose to pitch the ball, then you are going to choose a wedge as you will need the loft and the spin once the ball hits the green. The next step is to decide if you can putt the ball by evaluating the thickness of the grass, the amount of fairway/fringe you have to contend with, the lie of your ball and the evenness of the terrain. If you have then ruled out putting and choose to chip the ball, pick your ideal landing spot first which should be just on the surface of the green. Remember the rule of thumb; "minimum air, maximum ground." Once you have decided how much loft you need you can then choose your club. Use lower lofted clubs like woods and hybrids for minimum loft and maximum roll. If you need to carry the ball further and don't want a lot of roll out choose higher lofted clubs like a pitching wedge, 9 iron or 8 iron.

Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
- Top 50 LPGA Instructors in the World
- A Golf Digest Top 10 Teacher in Illinois
- A Golf Magazine Top Teacher in the Midwest
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